Portable Gadgets Adding a Little Chic to Geek

A sunglasses attachment moves the cell phone off the belt and onto the face.
A sunglasses attachment moves the cell phone off the belt and onto the face. (By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)
By Yuki Noguchi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 18, 2005

This summer, chic European women swooned over the fashion-forward look of the pink cell phone earpiece. In time for the fall season, a U.S. designer released a black patent-leather thigh holster that stows a phone. Ooo, la la ! And for the men: a new collection including Oakley sunglasses with a Bluetooth wireless microphone attachment.

Companies are trying to take the geek out of gadgetry, rendering the old cell-phone-on-a-belt look permanently passe. The aim is to drive up sales in the phone accessory market, which already generates $5 billion annually in the United States.

Techno-fashionistas say that it is the culmination of years of experimental design and that companies are finally finding a comfortable middle ground between form and function, mostly by exploiting ways to make devices smaller and therefore more wearable -- much like Apple Computer Inc.'s iPod Shuffle or Nano. Those trends, in turn, are creating a new category of accessories that make it even easier for consumers to keep their digital goods close to, or on, their person.

High-end designers are already covering that ground. Louis Vuitton sells a $305 "international telephone case." Dior sells a $315 case for iPod Minis, as well as a $295 travel case for all of iPod's accessories.

"As things get sleeker, it's going to be something that's more and more important" for mainstream fashion, said Robin Sackin, chairman of the fashion merchandising management department at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. But it takes time for things to gain enough acceptance to become a mainstream wearable item, Sackin said.

Indeed, beauty remains in the eye of the beholder.

Ken Eisner thought his wearable Razrwire was cool, for example, but it recently brought him face to face with the fashion police.

A guard at Reagan National Airport did not like the look of Eisner talking to himself and wearing sunglasses indoors with a suspicious attachment dangling near his sideburns. The attachment was the latest version of wireless Bluetooth technology that enabled him to use his cell phone without hanging a black cord from his ear.

"Though considered geek wear by some, it's considered fashion-forward by others," Eisner said in his own defense. The guard's "concern was that I was a complete weirdo," said Eisner, who is an executive at Simply Wireless Inc., a cell phone retail chain.

A company in Seattle recently started selling thigh holsters for cell phones online. The maker calls it
A company in Seattle recently started selling thigh holsters for cell phones online. The maker calls it "really practical and really sexy."
In the industry, the Razrwire qualifies as runway fashion. CTIA, the cellular trade association, has featured fashion shows at its annual trade show in recent years, with lanky models wearing bowling-ball-sized helmets trotting down catwalks. To showcase its new line of hats, helmets and jackets with built-in cellular microphones, Motorola Inc. hired snowboarders to slide down a 60-foot ski jump outside the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this year.

"In 2002, we produced a wearable technology fashion show to try to find out what the potential was," said Pablos Holman, designer of the cell phone thigh holster for Tsaya, the Seattle-based company that started selling the product online in August. "They were all totally impractical and totally dorky," he said, and only now is the sub-industry making great strides.

The thigh holster, Holman said, "turned out to be really practical and really sexy," but that's not a status easily achieved by most wearable devices. "It really has to be thought about deeply."


CONTINUED     1        >

© 2005 The Washington Post Company